American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia, Selkirk Mountains, Mt. MacDonald, Little Face, Prime Rib to Summit Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Mt. MacDonald, Little Face, Prime Rib to summit ridge. Characterized by long, continuous rock ribs, numerous avalanche paths, frozen waterfalls in winter, and two pointy peaks, it’s surprising how little traffic the north face of Mt. MacDonald has seen. Its lesser summit, known as the Little Face or Little MacDonald, has a particularly steep triangular wall. In 1974 the Waterman cousins opened a direttissima on the face in a three and a half day effort, but there had not been another successful party since. One obvious rib, just left of center on the face and more or less in a plumb line from a nipple on the ridge left of the summit, stands out, getting morning and afternoon light on long summer days.

On June 26 Squamish hardman Colin Moorhead and I left Golden at 3 a.m. with old Metallica blaring, and were approaching the rib by 4. An hour later we were back at the car, defeated by the raging Cannaught Creek. We started again, found a crossing, and two hours later were 2,100' above the road, at the base of the face. Three 5.8 rope-stretchers with a little simul-climbing put us below the first amazing pitch. An overhanging Yosemite-style squeeze chimney led to a splitter corner of sustained 5.10 finger and hand jams that led to a terrace where the rib juts out from the steep headwall above. From here we had a good view of the upper face and our intended line. The next two pitches were obvious: the left side of a 90m pinnacle, followed by a vertical blank face. With the weather looking marginal, we proceeded anyway despite the possibility of being dead-ended and getting wet. Sure enough, as I started leading the sixth pitch, the rain began, but the 5.9 stemming and hand- jamming up this left-facing corner was too good to quit. As Colin reached my belay, the rain eased off.

We waited a few minutes for the stone to dry and continued. Fortunately, the quartzite was featured with just enough incut edges, as pitch seven was the key to the route. Colin found a diagonal line up this face, pounding in blades and Arrows for pro along the way, mostly from 5.10 stances. We left three pins in place in key spots for future ascents, although the crux section required a 20', 5.11a runout on small face holds. It was the only place, other than a few rappel stations, that required pitons. Five more pitches of sustained, technical, and exposed climbing brought us to the nipple on the ridge. Lightning was striking the neighboring peaks as we fired the last two pitches, but rain held off until we started rappelling. We rappelled our route, except that the final four raps are to climber’s left of the ascent line. Eleven rappels, and we were back at our packs, tired, wet, and relieved. On the second-to-last rappel, the ropes stuck, and we had to climb and downclimb an extra pitch of wet slab in the dark: a two-hour exhausting task, given the state our bodies were in. With dying headlamps we groveled down to the highway through wet slide alder and arrived at the car 22 hours after leaving.

This was one of the best climbing days either of us had in 2004, and we highly recommend our route to others. Rack: 60m ropes, a double set of cams from #0 TCU to #3 Camalot, 1 #3.5 and 1 #4 Camalot, 1 set of nuts, 5 pitons. All belays are on good ledges.

With the route set for rappelling, competent climbers armed with the beta should shave several hours off our time—12 hours up and down should be enough, plus the approach. The ultimate, though, for a fit party might be to link Prime Rib, the Little MacDonald summit, the Northwest Ridge of Mt. MacDonald, and back to the car, in a day.

Jon Walsh, Canada

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